Extraordinary Merry Christmas
Your enjoyment of Glee's second Christmas special will depend on a couple of things: firstly, whether or not you're a fan of the show; secondly, just how much of a sucker you are for seasonal slush. Extraordinary Merry Christmas, unsurprisingly given the title, is a love letter to Crimbo and the music it has inspired. Following last year's passable but anti-climactic special, this sequel of sorts is a big improvement and gets past its inevitable novelty value by offering fans an inspired set-up that makes it one of the third season's highlights thus far. Maybe it's the whole 'season of goodwill' thing getting to me, but this one's at the top of the list Santa will be getting from me...
The episode begins with Mercedes doing her best Mariah as the youngsters decorate the choir room's tree while singing 'All I Want for Christmas'; from the off, you'll know whether you'll be watching the remaining forty festive minutes. The plot is merely a framework on which to throw some decorative renditions of songs heard every December, and so establishing the two main threads is done and dusted with early on. Rachel's given Finn a 'super specific list' of desired (and sparkling) gifts that he can't afford and flies in the face of Mariah's anti-materialist message, while the gang jump at the chance of starring in their own Christmas special even though Sue has already booked the club to perform at a homeless shelter on the same night. Anyone who's seen even five minutes of TV will know how all this pans out, but the inevitable moralising doesn't make the sleigh ride any less enjoyable.
Matthew Morrison is behind the camera for most of this episode as first-time director, but it is Mr Schue who organises the last-minute booking and nominates Artie, fresh from his West Side Story success, as director. At first Artie has his reservations ('I swear I'd never sell out and do television' - ha!) but it's not long before he's taking inspiration from his own favourite holiday specials and planning his elaborate self-declared 'Christmas spectacular'. This allows Kevin McHale to continue his hilarious Simon Cowell impression, harshly axing Rachel's impassioned Joni Mitchell cover like a particularly nasty panel show judge in a dodgy Christmas jumper. There's even room for a surreal WTF cameo from Chewbacca before Artie's vision comes to light in one of this season's standout extended set-pieces.
From its Star Wars homage opening credits to the hilariously mannered retro acting of its star players, the Artie-directed (and Breadstix-sponsored) 'Extraordinary Merry Christmas' is an excuse for the show's cast to sing their little hearts out to a variety of Christmas tunes - in black and white, of course. However, while watching Blaine and Kurt perfect a Fred and Ginger routine to a swinging 'Let it Snow' or the Cheerios sass their way through 'Christmas Wrapping' is debatedly more fun than sipping your fourth mulled wine, the third act (and most of the fourth) spent on 'holiday roommates' Blaine and Kurt's oh-so-gay 'bachelor chalet' set also demonstrates the main player's comedic chops. Meanwhile, the breaking of the fourth wall (as the characters speak directly to their Lima, Ohio audience) and other intended contrivances (laugh-tracks, rubbish scripted jokes) allows for sparks of the subversive, knowing humour missing through much of the third season that was always a staple of creator Ryan Murphy's first cult teen show, Popular.
Of course, by the time Itchy the Holiday Elf (aka, a homesick Rory) shows up, the gang decide to cut their holiday special short and make an impromptu appearance at the soup kitchen for a sing-song that even manages to make Grinch Sue smile. Inevitably, 'Do They Know it's Christmas' is the song of choice and, inevitably, the lack of subtlety doesn't get in the way of such a heartwarming ending wrapping everything up in a big gold bow. Does Rachel care about her wishlist of gifts anymore? Of course she doesn't! As long as the homeless have their soup and she has a Salvation Army bell to ring, all is good with the world and Christmas cheer is alive and well. Merry Christmas!